Korean pop groups began gaining popularity and media exposure in Japan last year, singing and dancing on TV shows and appearing in commercials.

Fluent in Japanese, the so-called K-pop phenomenons go out of their way to impress fans with their dedication to the language and their high regard for the market. And being young, sexy and cute are definite pluses in the Japanese market.

No matter how big a supporter of Japan Lady Gaga is, it is hard to imagine her releasing an album with a significant number of Japanese songs.

Following are questions and answers on Korean pop:

Why did K-pop become so popular?

Over the past decade, South Korean TV dramas have been all the craze in Japan, especially with women. K-pop soon followed suit. Although territorial and political issues saw some hiccups, it was a time of increasingly friendly cultural exchanges.

South Korea and Japan cohosted the 2002 World Cup Soccer tournament, which was considered a huge success and a boost to diplomatic relations.

As ties warmed, Seoul began aggressively supporting the export of South Korean culture abroad.

In the same year, NHK began airing “Fuyu no Sonata” (“Winter Sonata”), a South Korean drama that quickly triggered a phenomenon called the Hanryu (Korean) Boom. The series, which was especially popular with middle-aged women, was considered well-written and -acted and adeptly probed the universal themes of love, sickness, death and suspense, reaching depths rarely seen in Japanese dramas.

The 2005 Japan debut of boy group Toho Shinki is considered the dawn of the K-pop boom. BoA and other South Korean singers had achieved certain success, but Toho Shinki lit the fire.

Toho Shinki first sang mainly ballads, but then around 2008 started to focus more on choreographed dancing, said a journalist knowledgeable about Korean pop culture who declined to be named.

“Until then, drama had been the main South Korean content in Japan, attracting mainly middle-aged Japanese women. But the music industry changed course in 2008, gaining younger fans,” she said.

Is K-pop linguistically Japan-focused, and if so why?

For one thing, it makes good business sense. South Korea’s domestic music market is small er than Japan’s, which is Asia’s largest by far.

Japan was the world’s second-largest music market in 2008, with a 22 percent global share, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. South Korea had only a 1 percent share, making it 18th in the world and second in Asia.

Which K-pop groups stand out the most?

Shojo Jidai (Girls’ Generation )and Kara are the most popular female groups, while Toho Shinki is arguably the top male group.

According to ranking company Oricon, Toho Shinki’s CD “Ion 2010” was No. 7 and its single “Break Out!” hit No. 16 last year. The group was the only one from South Korea to crack the top 20.

Kara’s single “Go Go Summer” was the fourth most popular and the eponymous Girls’ Generation album was No. 7 in July. The two groups were the only K-pop entries in the top 10 in each of those categories.

The K-pop boom got a big lift on Aug. 25, 2010, when Girls’ Generation held a concert at Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo’s Koto Ward, the journalist said, noting that the group played three sets before an audience of 22,000. Afterward, Girls’ Generation and Kara both became subjects of a media blitz.

Does K-pop’s popularity reach beyond Japan and South Korea?

Last year the genre enjoyed a boom in China and Southeast Asia. It was a time when the South Korean music industry was heavily promoting artists in those countries. Some K-pop groups even have Chinese members, making their music an easy sell for Chinese fans.

How do K-pop and J-pop differ?

Both boast young, good-looking idols, but K-pop focuses more on wholeness and maturity, while J-pop focuses on incompleteness and immaturity. For example, the J-pop band AKB48 makes fans want to root for every one of the girls and see them grow up, while Girls’ Generation and Kara fascinate fans with their dancing, sexuality and apparent lasting cuteness.

Will K-pop continue to be popular?

In Japan, yes, more than in China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, because Japanese tend to listen to the same music over and over, the journalist said. However, only two or three South Korean groups will retain their stardom in the future, she said.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp

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